Today marks one year since a court ordered Antoinette Kongsa to be released from prison in Cameroon. Yet Kongsa is still incarcerated with her 14-month-old baby, who was born right after Kongsa was detained. The Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative announced today that it will monitor Kongsa’s trial.
Kongsa was arrested without a warrant on October 2, 2021 near Buea, one of the biggest cities in the Anglophone region – the English-speaking part of Cameroon. Kongsa is reportedly the ex-girlfriend of a man known as ‘General No Pity.’ ‘No Pity’ is allegedly a combatant in Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis – an ongoing internal conflict in the Anglophone region. After Kongsa was arrested, local news media reported that the authorities described the arrest as a means to “get back at separatist leader No Pity.” The International Crisis Group and the U.S. State Department have reported on retaliation against women and girls in connection with their relationships – family or romantic – with fighters on both sides of the conflict.
As reflected in court documents viewed by TrialWatch, Kongsa was initially detained incommunicado at local police headquarters. She was then transferred to Buea Central Prison, where she remains. Kongsa is accused of failing to report terrorist acts. At the time of her arrest, Kongsa was eight months pregnant. She gave birth in November 2021.
TrialWatch monitors criminal trials globally against those who are most vulnerable, including women and girls, and evaluates the proceedings against applicable regional and international standards to advocate for the rights of individuals who are unfairly imprisoned. Cameroon is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which protect the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom from discrimination. Cameroon is also party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which, among other things, prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.
The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights has been monitoring the proceedings since late 2021 in partnership with the TrialWatch initiative. Although Kongsa’s lawyers sought to have her case heard by a civilian court, a military court claimed jurisdiction and ordered her detention. Kongsa’s lawyers appealed the detention order to the South West Court of Appeal, and on December 15, 2021 – one year ago today – a TrialWatch monitor witnessed the Court grant Kongsa bail. Kongsa’s lawyers later told the monitor that the authorities have refused to free her because, among other things, they are insisting on a letter from the Ministry of Justice authorizing the release. Under the international and regional treaties that Cameroon has ratified, “maintaining a person in detention after release has been ordered by a court competent to exercise control over the legality of detention” violates the right to freedom from arbitrary detention.
TrialWatch will continue to track the case and will release a further report in the coming months.